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Cellphones Handhelds Security News Technology

Search the World's Smartphone Photos 67

Posted by timothy
from the you-are-where dept.
mikejuk writes "Researchers have devised and tested a system called Theia that can perform an efficient parallel search of mobile phones to track down a target photo. It could be used to perform a realtime search for a missing child accidently caught in a photo you have just taken or the location of a criminal or political activist. You might think that the security and privacy aspects were so terrible that you just wouldn't install the app. However exceptional photos of a sporting or news incidents are worth money and the profit motive might be enough for you to install it."
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Search the World's Smartphone Photos

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  • So if you're planning to commit a crime make sure you steal another phone without the app installed?

    • If you're planning to commit a crime, make sure nobody takes a smartphone pic of you.
    • by plover (150551) *

      No, if you're planning to commit a crime, download the app and hack it. Watch the images the server is sending to your phone to say "find a match for this image." If you see your picture, you know there's a secret APB out on you, so it's time to run and hide. If you don't see your picture, maybe you got away with it.

  • by wrencherd (865833) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:45AM (#37085356)
    I'm not convinced about the "profit" motive involved with this.

    Every sporting event I've been to recently is pretty strict on where photos may be taken from.

    I don't see the average iPhone user beating those people on the field with the lenses on monopods.

    Now, shooting celebs as they come out of the tanning salon, maybe.
  • by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:46AM (#37085368)
    Just think if this tech was tied to all the millions of security camera servers out there. These two coupled together would allow someone to be found pretty rapidly in this day and age if they are anywhere near civilization.
    • What about people that don't want to be found? Guess they don't get a choice in the matter, huh?

      I can see that there's going to be a lot of hats and sunglasses being worn in my future...

    • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:24AM (#37085676) Homepage Journal

      Those images of publicly viewable should be subject to automated searching for criminal evidence. If a billion cops could legitimately stand there watching and writing down notes, it's legit to replace them with sensors, networks, and AI.

      But a billion cops would do more than stand there watching and writing down notes. Replacing them with sensors, networks and AI doesn't eliminate all the problems with using real cops. Many prohibitive problems of comprehensive public surveillance still remain when the cops are automated. Primarily the abuse potential of compiling all that info, crosstabbed and logged. A higher probability of abuses committed, a higher amount of damage doable by abuse, a higher probability that abuse will never be caught, a higher probability that abuse will not be corrected, remedied, or abusers punished. Therefore more abuses.

      Until the US reforms privacy laws to comply with the Fourth Amendment [cornell.edu], the right of the people to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects (AKA "privacy"), against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall be frequently violated. All data collection that touches our private information must be subject to open review for abuse, must be required to aggregate and anonymize data wherever possible, must prevent crossreference except under legitimate court order, must report collection or crossreference events to the person measured, and must truly delete any data identified with any specific person or small group after the immediate justification for its collection has passed. The people doing the collection, crossreferencing and retention, whether directly or by either setting policy or implementing it (including programmers and legislators), must be quickly subject to stiff penalties for any abuses.

      Unless there is a bright and easily defensible line kept between public and private, the public will always invade the private - typically in the interests of some favored private interest attacking the others. We are already far down this road, but not too far to back out of it.

      • by Dogtanian (588974) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:45AM (#37085856) Homepage

        Those images of publicly viewable should be subject to automated searching for criminal evidence. If a billion cops could legitimately stand there watching and writing down notes, it's legit to replace them with sensors, networks, and AI.

        There are two assumptions here. Firstly that anything you do in public is fair game, and secondly any activity that we accept when it's done the old-fashioned (and tedious) way is equally legitimate when it's done in a high-speed, automated manner.

        Some- myself included- disagree with both these general premises. A hundred years ago, if you did something in public, people could see you and talk about you, but there wasn't the chance of some video of you doing something stupid hanging around forever, or someone in power easily being able to see you doing that.

        In short, the implications of doing something in public have changed a lot, even in the past 30 years, and the social rules surrounding that date back to before this time. Even then, you generally couldn't have got away with (e.g.) stalking someone, even if they were doing it "in public", so it's not like there was ever *no* level of "privacy" towards people in public spaces.

        Secondly, doing some surveillance activity in the old-fashioned, tedious manner by definition limited it to people the police had a reason to focus on. Doing it in an automated manner makes it possible to gather information on and track people in general, regardless of whether or not there is a fair reason to do this, and makes a police state or "surveillance society" possible in a way that doing it by hand doesn't.

        In short, this is a case where a quantitative change in how much something can be done makes a *qualitative* change to its effects, i.e. it is *not* simply a case of letting the police do their old job faster- it fundamentally changes it. And this is why (IMHO) doing it the new way should *not* get a free pass because it's always been like that.... because it hasn't.

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          "A hundred years ago" there were also problems with unfair consequences of doing things in public. The persistence of recordings of even public acts doesn't strike me as unfair. If you did something in public, that will always be true. The replay of evidence of it doesn't seem unfair. Indeed, that persistence seems more fair to the public actor, since legitimate acts are more easily defended by persistent evidence of them. Bad acts should remain available to the public - why not? Because you were stupid? Ho

          • It's different with government and police. If an ordinary citizen catches you in the act of committing a crime and then reports you, I don't have a problem with that. But If the police set up surveillance and automate things to discover people breaking the law, you'll have people spitting chewing gum or tossing cigarette butts getting tickets faster than a bear on honey. While I detest both of those things, neither of those people did anything wrong prior to that act. There's no cause to put someone und
      • by kent_eh (543303)
        There are things that I choose to do which harm no none, inconvenience no one, and should be no one else's business.
        Some of those things also seem to offend some other people for some reason that I can't understand.
        There are also people who have power or influence over me and my financial security / freedom of association or that of my family members.

        Now, what might happeng if these various factors overlap?
        Might I not get a promotion, or not get a new job
        Might my son not "make the team"?
        Might my wif
        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          Then don't do those things in public. Privacy is for private places.

          And if those public acts enable some people to unfairly affect you, then the problem is those people's unfair power over you. That's the place to resist. Not in pretending that public acts have privacy expectations. At the very least because those people's power will be used to exploit what's available to the public to the maximum extent, unless you limit their power.

          • by kent_eh (543303)
            So I shouldn't attend any more gaming conventions because some mid-level HR drone has it in their head that D&D = Satan worshipper?
            Or I shouldn't watch the local pride parade because someone might think I'm gay, and therefore am no longer qualified to be a scout leader??? Or even that I should lose custody of my kids?

            Sorry, but no.
            I agree that people should just mind their own business, and not impose their prejudices on others, but that's not the reality is it?

            So I think a good first step is not
            • by Doc Ruby (173196)

              No, you should fix the problem that those people have too much power over you. Your fear of public assembly and association, and preference to hide it rather than protect it, is positively un-American.

              The reality is that recording public acts is never going to go away. The reality is that it is possible to protect your freedoms of public assembly and association. When you stop making excuses for your fear, you'll get more security from what threatens you.

              • The reality is that recording public acts is never going to go away.

                Or, "the reality is that prejudice and bias will never go away"

                One of those problems is more easily solved than the other. One requires a legal restriction on technological surveillance and recording. The other requires a drastic change to human nature. It would be nice if human nature would miraculously change, but don't hold your breath.

  • by symes (835608)

    They find an impage of a missing child on your phone... then what? Guys in black balaclavas burst into your home? Presumably this app would access to more than just the photos in order to work our who you were and where you are? That said, I quite like the idea but so long as I can trace my cheating ex-wife

  • Wait a minute... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:54AM (#37085436)

    If they can search it, odds are they can access it, so what's preventing them just taking the damn photo and not paying you a dime?

    Jesus, when did people get so fucking naive when it comes to business and government, especially businesses like tabloids and whatever government agencies would be checking your pics for whatever the hell they feel like whenever they feel like it? So many people just ready to torpedo any rights of privacy we have left...what the hell is wrong with this country?

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:00AM (#37085478) Homepage Journal

    It comes right out and says "political activist". That's very timely, all things considered, By "political activist" they mean protesters or those holding demonstrations outside of the designated free speech zones.

    Just right for quickly identifying those who would dare to threaten the established order. Can you think of any reason why you might not want to take part in this system?

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:11AM (#37085572) Homepage Journal

    mikejuk:

    You might think that the security and privacy aspects were so terrible that you just wouldn't install the app. However exceptional photos of a sporting or news incidents are worth money and the profit motive might be enough for you to install it.

    Ben Franklin [google.com]:

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    Doc Gonzo: They who can give up essential privacy to obtain a little temporary cash deserve only a little temporary cash, but neither liberty nor privacy.

    This app might be worth granting access to your public images, if you could trust that the app would not get permission to access your private images (or anything outside the public images you allow). But then it wouldn't have the side effect of "WON'T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN".

  • don't forget to factor in data and data roaming costs,.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Don't worry. I'm sure the phone companies and the government can come to an arrangement where data they retrieve from your phone doesn't show up in the bill or logs.
      • Don't worry. I'm sure the phone companies and the government can come to an arrangement where data they retrieve from your phone doesn't show up in the bill or logs.

        Oh, for a +1 Funny mod!!!

        The charge will be there in your bill; it just won't be very obvious.

  • I read a book once (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brabo_sd (1279536) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:34AM (#37085756)
    I read a book once. It was about a society where spying eyes could detect the acts of political activists. It wasnt a pretty book.
  • Can I patent crowdsourcing Big Brother? Is it possible to trademark that phrase, "Crowdsourcing Big Brother"? Service-mark it?

    Eastern District of Texas, here I come...

  • Big Brother is recruiting help in the destruction of our privacy.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hell no, no, not just hell no, but FUCK no. I know that the Facebook/Youtube/IM/Text generation doesn't get privacy but I sure as fuck do and no one needs anymore access to any data that can remotely be used to identify me, track my movements, give the government an edge (which is ALWAYS evil no matter who is in power), or be sold to a business to market to me.

  • by giorgist (1208992) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @09:59PM (#37090538)
    It seems that they are raising the boil temperature slowly so we cant tell.

    In the one blurb we have "think of the childred", catch "criminals and political activists" (the two belonging to the same category) and also "make money".

    What we provide is our photos with our GPS and our timing location where we took them as well as the subject being our choice!!

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